There is No Urgency Without Honesty: Media, George Floyd, Poverty and Policing in America

"TIRED"


Every few days or weeks, a new video emerges, capturing yet another life lost to state-sanctioned extrajudicial murder. A mother grieves at a courthouse podium, knowing she'll never again hold her son. Frustration abounds, and renewed anger sometimes spills into streets … as our media seemingly pieces together all the relevant facts.


We offer thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of the dead.

We mourn, and say their names.


George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony Timpa, Jeremy Mardis, Alton Sterling, Joey Chlopek, Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson, Philando Castile, Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, Ma’khia Bryant ...


You will have to understand that I am tired of this predictable routine.

I grew up working poor in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve had guns trained at my chest, as officers shouted contradictory demands. I have been aggressively handcuffed and detained by police, unjustly, twice at the age of 16.

I am lucky to have survived those encounters.

"THE POOR SUFFER WORST, AND MOST OFTEN"


According to this frequently updated Police Shootings Counter, 274 people have been shot and killed by US police forces so far, 2021. The number has grown by twelve, since I started writing, just a few days ago.


While we fight for post-mortem justice, there is also an important question about avoiding future loss of life.

We don’t yet know their names, but we will in due time.


The connections between poverty, stress, violence, and numerous social harms are made plain in this article about how Poverty Influences Crime Rates.

A few more articles:

I invite you to read them, yourselves, but here’s my best, quick summary:

Americans are ~3.5 times more likely to be killed by police if you are poor, than if you are rich. A socio-economic difference that powerfully intensifies race.

“There are large class disparities in police killings, both overall and within each racial group … The highest-poverty areas have a police killing rate of 6.4 per million while the lowest-poverty areas have a police killing rate of 1.8 per million ... a 3.5 fold difference." -People’s Policy Project

I argue it is not possible to write, speak, or lead a full and serious discussion on the topic of police violence in America - without meaningfully examining the ravages of modern American poverty ... which are deeply intertwined with a history of American racism.

“Even some law enforcement officers acknowledge, we must reimagine public safety and community health, reallocate funds from traditional policing to services that promote public safety and more effectively address the conditions that create poverty, inequality, and community distress.” -Equal Justice Intiative

"HOW MEDIA FAILS THE NATIONAL DISCOURSE"


Here is a quote (emphasis added) from an article written by Julian Zelizer, a former, distant, colleague of mine at CNN.

“The urgency of doing something now is fierce, lives are at stake every day and the President, who went so far as to repudiate white supremacy in his inaugural address, has to use the power of his office to take meaningful action.”

The article has the look and feel of a call to action, but upon closer inspection the author takes pains to manage readers' hopes for meaningful change. While the word “urgency” sits in his title, the body of this opinion piece demonstrates an utter lack of it, as well as a profound failure of the imagination.


“What can a president do?” he wonders, unironically.


Zelizer, an esteemed scholar and Professor of History at Princeton University, can only fathom four options available to The President of the United States; to alleviate police violence in America, and save future lives ...

  1. “Moral suasion” (speeches)

  2. “High-level commissions” (studies)

  3. “The DOJ” (criminal justice reform)

  4. “… And, finally, there is legislation.” (He points to the Voting Rights Act of 1965)

He offers historical context for each of the above, but buries an interesting note in his second-to-last paragraph:


“... more funds for social services that would head off the need for policing in certain areas.”


Here, he hints at a promising solution that might "head off" future police interactions, preemptively. However, since this isn't one of his top proposals, Zelizer fails to give it any further consideration. Why?

I invite the Professor to rethink the assignment, and to clarify his idea of community investment, this time with greater rigor ... and maybe some urgency.


Zelizer does tout the need for “in-depth knowledge that becomes part of the national discourse”. He knows that citizens need a comprehensive understanding of reality for their democracy to work ... to grapple with the present state of the country, our leaders, the myriad challenges we face, and the options available to us.


On the crucial matter of police violence ...

Elite political commentators, journalists - and the forums that host them - will soon need to explain ...

Precisely how are black lives - or any American lives - improved by ignoring the directly relevant socio-economic factors at play in policing, and police violence?


I argue that the choice to engage in incomplete public conversations does harm, and impedes genuine efforts to understand and alleviate the problem, in the following ways:

  1. Reducing America’s complex social problems to independent skirmishes with “bad, or racist cops” deprives audiences of the language, the factors, and the fullest understanding of our shared predicament.

  2. Genuine activists are stuck with the difficult task of introducing the facts of an unjust economy - which produces broken communities, with abject poverty and racial injustice built-in … Where militarized police forces are then dispatched to suppress the predictable consequences of that deprivation.

  3. This erasure of reality foments needless racial division and serves to scapegoat officers - by negating vital context for how so many black/brown men and boys end up converging with the state, at the point of an officer’s gun.

  4. It endangers our sense of proportion, by settling for slogans, emotions, and conjecture, rather than fact-based analysis.

  5. The frustrated public is left ill-equipped and underserved by their powerful information sources. Leaving them vulnerable to opportunists, who distract and demagogue.

  6. As a result, it is harder to mobilize around meaningful ideas, because key connections are vanished, left unexplored, unheard-of even; in the intensely powerful, daily, national discourse.

We can do much better than this.

If my former employer, CNN, is in need of a qualified, motivated - and dare I say, handsome - contributor to honestly discuss the intersection of race, poverty, governance, policing, and justice, I am available.


I have first-hand policy experience, on the federal-level, from my four-years as a Legislative Aide in the US Congress. I have graduate level academic credentials in Philosophy and Ethics, which give real insight into the structures and systems that contribute to this troubling moment. I’ve walked the halls of CNN’s DC bureau as an Editor/Producer for the last five years ... so I know the vital importance of critical analysis from our media centers.


Americans are ~3.5 times more likely to be killed by police if you are poor, than if you are rich. A socio-economic difference that powerfully intensifies race.


In an uncertain world, beset by the normalization of absurdity ... I find it useful to assert reality as clearly as possible, and as often as necessary. I demand fuller, better conversations about the realities of our social condition - which produces so much misery for innocent families, and frequently leads to loss of life; including at the hands of police.


Reader, I know that you also want a more honest, and just society.

I ask that you join me by sharing, commenting, and making sure this article is seen by as many people as possible.

Thanks.

-Billy


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